A Seahorse Year

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Nan Ashby and Hal Cooper, along with their son Christopher and Nan’s live-in girlfriend Marina form an unconventional, although for San Francisco, not atypical family unit. Hal, a CPA and former member of a gay glam rock band, has been persuaded by the strong-willed Nan to father her child, and has become an equal partner in bringing him up. The family unit operates remarkably smoothly, despite Marina’s continuing affair with a younger woman and Hal’s loneliness.

However, when Christopher disappears from home, the frantic Nan and Hal realize that all is not right with their charming, but sensitive son. Finally tracking him down and bringing him home, Nan is devastated when he is diagnosed as schizophrenic, and the various nightmarish and mostly unsuccessful forays into treatment begin. Eventually, with the help of his well-meaning but misguided girlfriend Tamara, Christopher escapes from the hospital, and the two head for Northern California, intent on living an idyllic existence in the woods. Clearly, this adventure is headed for disaster as Christopher comes off his medication and becomes increasingly erratic and paranoid.

Stacey D’Erasmo skillfully demonstrates how Christopher’s illness puts almost unbearable stress on this family unit, and the delicate relationships constructed by these characters begin to deteriorate under the pressure. Her gift for description and imagery lift this novel above the ordinary family drama. In particular, her insight into Christopher’s disturbed thought processes allows the reader into his head and to understand the profound disconnect between the mentally ill and the sane world they leave behind. Finally, A Seahorse Year illuminates the power of love—first love, parental love, and obsessive love—and how it shifts and alters under pressure.